Little has changed since BARRY DUKE first wrote an article for the Freethinker magazine about Islam’s persecution of homosexuals. This is an updated version of his 2004 feature.
Trawl Google images for “gay Christians”, and you will find thousands of pictures of that fit the criteria. Do the same for “gay Muslims” and the results are incredibly sparse; those that do show up are often extremely disturbing because they depict homosexuals being brutalised or killed. Our cover photo, obtained from Shutterstock, was the only one available of a gay man who had the courage to show his face to the camera during the Milan Pride parade in June 1016.
Why is this? Islam’s condemnation of homosexuality is unambiguous – “It is a disease in need of curing,” insists the contentious Muslim cleric, Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Islam’s attitude towards lesbian and gay people can also be pathologically hostile, as demonstrated by the now banned fanatical Islamic group Al-Muhajiroun.
In a tirade against the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA), the group issued a statement saying: “Know that one of the most sinful acts known to humankind is what is termed homosexuality. This sin, the impact of which makes one’s skin crawl, which words cannot describe, is evidence of perverted instincts, total collapse of shame and honour, and extreme filthiness of character and soul. It is truly a sin disbelieved by healthy minds and violently rejected by natural instinct. Even animals and other creatures are repulsed by this action. Have you ever seen an animal exhibit homosexual behaviour. The answer is an emphatic NO!
“This kind of sexual activity between men was not known on Earth since creation until the time of the people of Lot. They were the people whose men began this practice amongst themselves, instead of having normal relations with women … The crime of homosexuality has many serious consequences and harms. One such serious consequence of homosexual activity is the birth of serious diseases that plague the Earth. The AIDS virus claims millions of lives every year and this kind of sexual deviance is among its main causes.
“We therefore call on all sexually deviant groups to embrace Islam as a means of expiation of your sins. And know that the door of repentance is open to everyone with Allah until his life span ends. May Allah guide us to the straight path and make us die as Muslims and avoid a horrible and shameful death.”
Apart from exposing the writer’s deplorable ignorance of biology – he has clearly never heard of the exuberant carryings-on of the bonobos (miniature chimpanzees), one of around 450 species of mammals and birds known to engage in homosexual behaviour – this rant suggests that homosexuality is completely alien to Muslims, and is solely the disease of the infidel. In fact, the opposite is true. Whereas, in all probability, there are no fewer – or more – naturally gay and lesbian people in Islamic societies than in any other, a far greater proportion of Muslims overall engage in homosexual activities.
The reason for this is that Islam unnaturally skews human sexuality. Because it demands strict segregation of the sexes in all aspects of life, it is inevitable that men and women – who are not necessarily gay by nature – will seek sexual gratification with people of the same sex. This phenomenon is well recognised in the West. In institutions where the sexes are segregated, for example, prisons, public schools, and the military, homosexual acts do take place – again, among people who are not always naturally homosexual.
In one of the most illuminating essays I have ever read concerning Islam and homosexuality, Dr Serge Trifkovic, in his book The Sword of the Prophet: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, wrote:
“In Muslim nations, the suppression of liaison between men and women outside pre-arranged wedlock has produced frustrated sexual tension that has sought and found release in homosexual intercourse through the centuries. Those denied access to licit sexuality have sought and obtained outlets that have produced a chronic contradiction between normative morality and social realities. Male and female prostitution and same-sex practices – including abuse of young boys by their older male relatives – have been rampant in Islamic societies from the medieval to the modern period. It should be emphasised that those societies stress a distinction between the sexual act itself, which was deemed acceptable, and emotional attachment, which was unpardonable.
“A Muslim who is the active partner in sexual relations with other men is not considered a ‘homosexual’ (the word has no pre-modern Arabic equivalent); quite the contrary, his sexual domination of another man may even confer a status of hyper-masculinity. He may use other men as substitutes for women, and at the same time have great contempt for them. This depraved view of sex, common in mainstream Muslim societies, is commonly found in the West only in prisons. In all cases it is the presence of love, affection, or equality among sexual partners that is intolerable.
“Equality in sexual relations is unimaginable in Islam, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Sex in Islamic societies has never been about mutuality between partners, but about the adult male’s achievement of pleasure through domination.”
Trifkovic concluded: “Men and women have been created different, and the recognition of those differences is essential in any society that does not want to follow the path of post-modern depravity. Islam has found the opposite extreme of the modem West’s bed-hopping unisex feminism. The traditional Western view, a balance between sexual equality and sexual difference, between freedom and restraint, is the best answer. Islam’s problem of homosexuality, a reflection of the deeper psychosis endemic to the Islamic world view, illustrates a problem that cannot be solved short of Islam’s thorough and comprehensive reform and revision.”
Having created the conditions which make social and sexual deviation inevitable, the paranoid-schizophrenic world of Islam then treats those deemed guilty of such deviation with the utmost cruelty. For example, in ten Islamic countries the “crime” of homosexuality carries the death sentence and in other states, shariah (Islamic law) insists on a variety of harsh and barbaric punishment for transgressors.
So where does this leave lesbian and gay Muslims? By all accounts, in a world of fear, isolation and denial – not only in hard-line Islamic states, but also in the much more tolerant West.
Around 18 years ago, Faisal Alam, a once devout Muslim who, having found it impossible to reconcile his faith with his homosexuality, established the Al-Fatiha foundation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Muslims, saying “We are about 200 years behind Christianity in terms of progress on gay issues. Islamic attitudes toward homosexuality are barbaric. That’s the only way to put it. It’s an issue that has not even begun to be discussed. It’s still viewed as a Western disease that infiltrates Muslim minds and societies. If you tell most straight Muslims you are gay and Muslim, they will tell you it’s an oxymoron – you cannot be both.”
In 1998, Alam organised Al-Fatiha’s first convention. Almost 40 people participated – a pitifully small attendance, but nonetheless a significant number considering how terrified most Muslims are of “coming out”.
Sceptical gays who first heard of Alam’s group worried that it might be a fundamentalist front intent on “outing” gay Muslims. “One woman thought the fundamentalists were going to line us up and shoot us,” Alam said in an interview with David Gold.
“That picture”, wrote Gold in an article published in 1999 in the US publication Southern Voice, “isn’t too far from the reality gays face in some some parts of the Muslim world. And yet this is the same Islamic world, observers say, where strict segregation of the sexes routinely leads men and women alike to turn to their own gender for love and physical companionship – the same Islamic world from which Western gay men sometimes return with head-spinning stories of wild homosexual adventures.
“Ponder this seemingly irreconcilable contradiction, and you begin to glimpse the enormous spiritual conflict with which gay Muslims wrestle every day. The first thing Most gay Muslims say when they hear of another gay Muslim is, ‘My God, I thought I was the only one’.
“A desire to combat that withering isolation led Alam, in November 1997, to launch an Internet list service for gay and lesbian Muslims. That list has now grown to include 250 people in 20 countries.”
Those who attended Al-Fatiha’s first convention came from the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. A second gathering, held Memorial Day weekend in New York City, attracted 60 people.
A third took place in London in 2000. under conditions of utmost secrecy – for it was discovered that Al Muhajiroun, an international organisation seeking the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate, was planning to wreck the event by beating drums loudly and throwing eggs and bricks at the participants.
“Given this condemnation and the fact that some Islamic countries continue to impose the death penalty for sodomy, why do gay people remain in the Islamic faith? Their answers are as complex as the ancient religion itself,” wrote Gold.
“For each of us. it is a struggle,” Alam said. “Probably 90 to 99 percent of gay Muslims who have accepted their sexuality leave the faith. They don’t see a chance for a reconciliation. They are two identities of your life that are exclusive.
“Islam has been such an important part of mv life since I was a teenager that I cannot see myself living without it. But I am the last person on earth to say I have reconciled it with my sexuality”.
Though he still considers himself a Muslim, Alam is no longer now religiously observant.
Because Islam lacks a central hierarchy, gay and lesbian Muslims are left in the position of having to appeal to Islamic scholars for a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality.
Alam says Al-Fatiha had identified several “progressive and open-minded” Islamic scholars in the hope of encouraging them to break with hard-liners. “If one of two of them will say something on this issue, we will have gotten somewhere.” But such an attitudinal sea- change would surely come slowly.
In the meantime, Gold wrote, Muslims like Alam are left coping with an often hostile environment. Alam now feels “ostracised” by the larger Muslim community. He was asked to leave a Muslim youth group when it was learned he was gay. And when his parents found out, they cut off his school money.
Alam is not blind to the danger he faces – even in the United States. “A lot of people have asked me, ‘Are you afraid for your life? Are you afraid of being killed?’ I’m not worried, but I do take precautions,” he says He described himself as “very out – but not in the Muslim community.”
At its height, Al-Fatiha had 14 chapters in the United States, as well as offices in England, Canada, Spain, Turkey, and South Africa and was one of the largest gay rights organisation in the world. But in 2001, Al-Muhajiroun issued a fatwa declaring that all members of Al-Fatiha were murtadd, or apostates, and condemned them to death. As a result Alam stepped down, and subsequent leaders failed to sustain the organisation. It began a process of legal dissolution in 2011.
Alam, a native of Pakistan, says that forced segregation of the sexes leads to the impression that “sexuality is something very fluid. It’s much easier for two guys to express their love toward one another and be accepted than it is for a male and a female.” He recalled seeing men holding hands and kissing in public, all the while followed by wives completely veiled in the Islamic tradition.
Sexual roles, too, play an important part. In Arab culture, Alam says, the male who takes the active role is not considered gay. Teens and younger men take the active role in sex with older men.
Alam said that old accounts exist of British soldiers on duty in the Arab world who wrote home ecstatic about the willingness of Arab men to play the active role.
Even so, those caught at it risk being thrown into quicksand. And the situation is “100 times worse” for lesbians, because of the oppressed status of women in most Islamic states.
So what has changed since I wrote the article for the Freethinker back in 2004? Precious little. Virulent homophobia remains entrenched in Muslim countries, which continue to impose harsh punishments for homosexuality. Add to that despicable acts of violence perpetrated by groups like Islamic State and the picture that emerges from places such as Pakistan, Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia is unremittingly grim.
Meanwhile, in the West, homophobia in Muslim communities shows little sign of abating, and gay Muslims lack the resources non-Muslims have to combat this hatred. LGBT Muslims, which provides “information on sexual diversity in Islam”, lists just five Western organisations, including Imaan, which is based in the UK. The group says its founding happened to “coincide with a coming-of-age of a particular generation of gay people from Muslim backgrounds born in this country that had witnessed the growth of a gay culture in England.”
Another UK organisation is British Muslims for Secular Democracy launched in 2006 by Nasreen Rehman and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
Its current director, Tehmina Kazi, has written positively on the issues of Islam and homosexuality for the Guardian newspaper, appeared on television, and has spoken at varies conferences.
In a piece written for The New Stateman in 2013, Muslim columnist Mehdi Hasan confessed his own youthful homophobia which ceased when he “grew up”. But he suggested this is not true of many other Muslims in the UK. He wrote: “A 2009 poll by Gallup found that British Muslims have zero tolerance towards homosexuality. ‘None of the 500 British Muslims interviewed believed that homosexual acts were morally acceptable,’ the Guardian reported.”
He then pointed out that, in his 2011 book Reading the Quran, the British Muslim intellectual and writer Ziauddin Sardar argued that “there is abso-lutely no evidence that the Prophet punished anyone for homosexuality”.
Sardar says “the demonisation of homosexuality in Muslim history is based largely on fabricated traditions and the unreconstituted prejudice harboured by most Muslim societies”. Hasan added that people like Sardar “are in a tiny minority, as are the members of gay Muslim groups such as Imaan. Most mainstream Muslim scholars – even self-identified progressives and moderates such as Imam Hamza Yusuf in the United States and Professor Tariq Ramadan in the UK – consider homosexuality to be a grave sin.
“What about me? Where do I stand on this? For years I’ve been reluctant to answer questions on the subject. I was afraid of the ‘homophobe’ tag. I didn’t want my gay friends and colleagues to look at me with horror, suspicion or disdain.
“So let me be clear: yes, I’m a progressive who supports a secular society in which you don’t impose your faith on others – and in which the government, no matter how big or small, must always stay out of the bedroom. But I am also (to Richard Dawkins’s continuing disappointment) a believing Muslim.
“And, as a result, I really do struggle with this issue of homosexuality. As a supporter of secularism, I am willing to accept same-sex weddings in a state-sanctioned register office, on grounds of equity. As a believer in Islam, however, I insist that no mosque be forced to hold one against its wishes.
“If you’re gay, that doesn’t mean I want to discriminate against you, belittle or bully you, abuse or offend you. Not at all. I don’t want to go back to the dark days of criminalisation and the imprisonment of gay men and women; of Section 28 and legalised discrimination. I’m disgusted by the violent repression and persecution of gay people across the Muslim-majority world.
“I cringe as I watch footage of the buffoonish Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claiming: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals . . . we do not have this phenomenon.” I feel sick to my stomach when I read accounts of how, in the late 1990s, the Taliban in Afghanistan buried gay men alive and then toppled brick walls on top of them.”